Page 10, 28th January 1938

28th January 1938
Page 10
Page 10, 28th January 1938 — Silence Is Not Nothing It Is Potential Musical Being

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Organisations: London Symphony Orchestra


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Silence Is Not Nothing It Is Potential Musical Being


Mr. Victor Bennett, who wrote the provocative article The Dowry of Silence in this quarter's Music and Letters which we discussed a little while ago, is himself provoked, and writes to me as follows: "One point of your criticism is that I have treated silence as 'a mystical something' whereas it is a 'negation.' My view is that silence is negative in so far as there is nothing actual in it, but that it may yet be considered as positive because there is something potential in it. This distinguishes it from a pure negation, which would presumably have nothing either actual or potential.

" I use the word 'void' as meaning not 'nothing.' which having no characteristics is strictly inconceivable, but as an unadorned dimension. A homely example is the vacuum in a thermometer. This is a thing not sufficiently barren to be called 'nothing,' for it is still a piece of space. Silence, then, is not inane, for it contains musical being, even if such being must be qualified as potential.

Quiet or Loud Music

" Now I am prepared to concede that this potential musical being does not really reside in silence. It resides in the musical performer or at one more remove in the composer, both of whom are located, as far as the listener is concerned, somewhere on the opposite shore of the silence. It is through silence that potentiality is manifested, and save through silence the listener can gather no sense of it. As far as his own awareness is concerned the potential musical being does reside in the silence.

"The reason why quiet music is more beautiful than loud music appears to me to be that the volume of sound required is just enough to enable the intellect to discern the musical form without effort. Any additional volume adds nothing to the musical form but only to the musical matter, which then offends the intellect with its grossness. Contrarily the intellect might be offended by too much quietness, an insufficient concreteness."

Beauty in Things The clue to the problems which Mr. Bennett again raises will be found, I think, in his observation that: "As far as his own (the listener's) awareness is concerned, the potential musical being does reside in the silence." Now, despite the subjective tendencies of contemporary psychological criticism any aesthetic theory which is not going to be blasted by self-contradiction must hold that beauty resides in things. " Many a flower is born to blush unseen," etc.

A beautiful picture is in itself not less beautiful because it is smeared with mud. But there is an obstacle to our knowledge of its beauty. The Jupiter symphony is not less beautiful because its sound is overwhelmed by the noise of pneumatic drills. But there is an obstacle to our knowledge of its beauty.

How do these obstacles work? Because (Continued at foot of next column) created beauty is the union of diverse

things. How are things diversified? Because of their limitations, because we can

deny of one thing that it is another. To know what a thing is implies a knowledge of what it is not. Because of the close re lations of inappropriate being (mud and noise) to the picture and the symphony the limitations of their component parts are inperceptible, not in themselves, but to thc viewer or the listener. Red cannot be distinguished from green, nor C from D.

However, we must continue next week,

Mozart's Concerto

The London Symphony Orchestra concert, last Thursday week, included a remarkable performance of a Mozart piano concerto by Wanda Landowska. Clarity, precision, imperturbable serenity were to be expected, for Wanda Landowska is one of the every greatest living executants.

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